“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” according to Lord Acton, the 19th century British historian. There’s a tendency for those in power to use it for themselves and their own aims.
The Jewish Christian communities that Matthew originally wrote for, according to experts on Matthew’s gospel, were closely connected to the Jewish communities of their day, and as an emerging minority felt pressured in the religious rivalry between the two groups that followed the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD. The Jewish Christians pointed to their Jewish neighbors as examples of Jesus’ early warnings about abuses of power. That anti-Jewish polemic appears in Matthew’s gospel.
But would they also see abuses of power in themselves and their own communities? Abuse of power is in every society, secular or religious, and it’s found on all levels, not just in those on top. It affects the most ordinary relationships. Would Matthew’s readers (and we who read his gospel today} see it in their own church and in their own actions?
St. Paul of the Cross was no modern social critic and had no grand design for reforming the society of his day, but he did see temptations of power in people with authority over others, like Thomas Fossi whom he directed many years. Fossi, married and a successful businessman, tended to try to run other people’s lives, especially his own family’s.
Paul frequently urged Fossi to stop being bossy. He offered himself as an example, when Fossi wanted Paul to be his spiritual director:“You make me laugh…saying that you want me to take charge of you. You don’t even know me. I don’t want to be in charge of anyone, nor have I ever thought of being a director, neither yours or anyone else’s. If I thought I knew how to direct others, I would be a devil in the flesh. God deliver me from it…I want to serve everyone and to offer sometimes some holy advice, based on holy truth and on what the spiritual masters say–to anyone who asks it of me.”
lead me away from temptations of self-importance,
as if my ideas, my vision, my convenience matter most.
You came to serve and not to be served.
Show me how to wish for what’s best for others
and save me from being a know-it-all.
Show me my faults,
and then take them away.